Northeast Times

Beware of scam threatening electric cutoff

Start­Frag­ment

If you don’t know what the Yid­dish word chutzpah means, here’s a story that should give you the gen­er­al idea.

On Tues­day, Aug. 28, a man called a North­east res­id­ent and told him — in Span­ish — that his PECO bill was over­due and his ser­vice would be ter­min­ated in a half-hour un­less he bought a deb­it card, call him back at a Los Angeles num­ber and re­cite the deb­it card in­form­a­tion.

That’s some gall, huh? Well, that’s chutzpah.

The Mor­rell Park man and his wife saw through this trans­par­ent con right away. Still, they called PECO to make sure their bill was paid, talked to someone in the util­ity’s se­cur­ity de­part­ment and then called the guy back with a few in­form­ally phrased re­marks.

The in­ten­ded vic­tim had not fol­lowed the very spe­cif­ic in­struc­tions he had been giv­en to buy a Green Dot Visa deb­it card at a loc­al CVS.

The North­east fam­ily was the first in the city to be tar­geted this way, said Ben Arm­strong, a PECO spokes­man, but the util­ity is very fa­mil­i­ar with this par­tic­u­lar scheme.

Since Decem­ber 2011, “we’ve had sev­en people call to tell us they had been con­tac­ted in what we’re call­ing the Green Dot Visa scam,” Arm­strong said. Be­fore Christ­mas last year, two people fell for the ploy, he ad­ded.

Most of the in­ten­ded vic­tims were Latino PECO cus­tom­ers in south­ern Chester County, Arm­strong said. One per­son lives in Ben­s­alem.

They were called from a New York state area code and told their elec­tric ser­vice was about to be turned or that they had ac­count bal­ances that had to be paid. They were in­struc­ted to go to loc­al con­veni­ence or drug stores to pur­chase Green Dot cards.

They were giv­en dif­fer­ent num­bers to call after the cards were pur­chased and in­struc­ted to read the num­bers off of the cards. The con artists could then use the card in­form­a­tion to make pur­chases, Arm­strong said.

“Es­sen­tially, it’s steal­ing cash from someone’s pock­et,” he said.

Arm­strong said PECO’s cor­por­ate se­cur­ity de­part­ment re­por­ted the scheme to au­thor­it­ies in Phil­adelphia, Chester County and Bucks County.

Mike DeAn­gel­is, a CVS spokes­man, said the drug store chain has heard of the ploy. It’s just one of a mul­ti­tude of ripoffs but there really isn’t much CVS can do about it, he said.

“It’s not something re­tail­ers can get their arms around,” he said last week. “Cus­tom­ers don’t tell us why they are mak­ing their pur­chases.”

Visa has in­form­a­tion about con games and tips to avoid them at ht­tp://www.visase­cur­ity­sense.com. The site also is in Span­ish: ht­tp://www.visase­cur­ity­sense.com/es­_US/in­dex.jsp.

The Green Dot Visa scam is not the only one con be­ing run on PECO cus­tom­ers, Arm­strong said.

An­oth­er ex­ample is the “Obama scam.”

This one op­er­ates through text mes­saging or so­cial me­dia sites, Arm­strong said, and the pay­off for the vil­lains has the po­ten­tial to be much more dam­aging to a vic­tim than the loss of a few hun­dred dol­lars.

Vic­tims are told they can get fed­er­al gov­ern­ment help pay­ing their elec­tric bills. All they have to do to get this myth­ic­al sub­sidy is provide their So­cial Se­cur­ity num­bers or oth­er per­son­al in­form­a­tion.

Any­one who gives up that kind of data runs the risk of be­com­ing an iden­tity-theft vic­tim, Arm­strong said, adding that PECO has heard about the Obama scam from two cus­tom­ers.

“Nev­er provide per­son­al in­form­a­tion un­less you have ini­ti­ated the call and know who you are call­ing,” Arm­strong said. ••End­Frag­ment 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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